Act 1: Building Relationships and Understanding

Scene Summaries:


Scene 1: Day One in Mtshini Wam

Our first day in Mtshini Wam was filled with warm welcomes and introductions to the work site.

There’s always a certain amount of shock value on the ground after preparing for such a highly anticipated trip.  Are the pictures and data we studied still relevant?  Who will be our main points of contact on the ground?  How will our efforts be received?  It is questions like these that we continued to ask throughout our first day efforts.

Trust, communication, the road to progress in an informal settlement; all of these are new and unknown topics to us, even despite the extent of research we did.  After learning about the updates we were waiting so long to hear about – the updated clusters, savings and enumeration reports, and the leaders in charge of these extended efforts – we were excited and anxious for the days ahead.

At this point in time there are a number of directions our project could take.  We have nicknamed them ‘mini-projects’ until we figure out the full extent of our efforts in Mtshini Wam.  Looking ahead, we are hoping to build the bridges of trust, communication, and understanding, undoubtedly necessary foundations in this new environment.


Scene 2: “Before you leave, leave us with something.”

in the first few work days, we were able to work collaboratively to understand the community's needs and goals.

Our second day of fieldwork began with introductions of our WPI team members to the 45 workers within the community.  Here we explained our hopes and intentions with one of our main contacts there to translate, and in return they introduced their roles within the reblocking project.  It appears this community leadership is strong and has high hopes held for one another, which will certainly help our group drive our efforts along.

Shadowing the five reblocking groups took up a great deal of our day, and the lessons learned here were quite significant.  Not only were we able to understand how these leaders provided progress with such limited resources, but we also learned about social issues, education systems, and personal aspirations within the reblocking process.  Being aware of these intricacies in Mtshini Wam has shed light upon how our project team can be an asset to their work.

“Before you leave, leave something with us.”  This statement from a community leader on the second day made us think deeper about our role within Mtshini Wam.  What can we leave with this optimistic community providing them with sustainable improvements?  What truly matters to these people in the long run?

In reflection, it has become apparent that a mutual understanding of trust and communication is desired by the community leadership.  Having taken such great strides to earn ownership and independence in their settlement, it is imperative that we provide a full circle to the work we intend on performing.


Scene 3: Planning With the Community – Shared Action Learning

Shared Action Learning becomes especially effective when trying to communicate project ideas across language and cultural barriers.

Experiencing new situations makes for a higher appreciation of learning through others, and in the concept of Shared Action Learning, this statement holds weight.  Especially in Mtshini Wam’s upgrading project, where there are so many partners and forms of collaboration going on right now, ensuring that people across the board understand where the next steps are leading cannot be underestimated.  People working toward a higher quality of life, whether it be on the partner or the community side of things, feel a privilege and a pride in being involved in this process.  These sorts of sensitivities have been observed in our time on the ground, and will continue to be a consideration in the steps ahead.

In our past week of being within Mtshini Wam, it has been through all-inclusive meetings, physical drawings of ideas, and thorough but simple explanations of our ideas that have proven most effective.  These methods have helped us to avoid miscommunications through cultural and language barriers.  These Shared Action Learning applications have also provided some definition to feasible initiatives our WPI group can take moving forward: shack lighting, community gardening, and community painting lead the list at this point.


Scene 4: Realization of Project Assumptions

explaining our project commitments on visual tools has helped bridge the communication gap with the leadership.

Keeping an open mind toward our project applications was a healthy mindset during our preparatory phase, but in moving forward after a week and a half of groundwork, this mindset needs to change.  This realization was found through a collection of group discussions both on and off site, where we were discussing how communication provides a constant challenge to our hopes and ideas in Mtshini Wam.

After brainstorming how to apply our practical ideas with the lessons we have learned through Shared Action Learning, it was through physically writing down the different areas of our work that the community leadership began to understand our criteria.  The three areas we broke down our work into included Community Development (gardening, shack lighting, painting), Recording the Reblocking Process, and our WPI requirements such as the writing and website.

Being college students with technical backgrounds, we feel as though this method of explanation conveyed our urge that we have something unique to offer Mtshini Wam.  It also opened our eyes to the ways in which we need to communicate our ideas in the limited time we have on site.  Our personal planning and initiatives will be taking this into account prior to making changes, so that true sustainable impacts can take hold.

Continue To Act 2